D.C. City Councilman Phil Mendelson, D-At-Large, defended his co-sponsorship of legislation to halt construction of paths in the Newark Street Park at a public meeting of the 3C Advisory Neighborhood Commission Monday, July 19. The park is currently being reconfigured to include a dog park and tot lot.
“We need to take a more deliberative look at the situation when the council reconvenes in September,” Mendelson said, referring to a partially-complete access road in the park. Construction began in May and one layer of asphalt has already been placed.
The road was designed to allow for trash removal and for Americans with Disabilities Act compliance, said Elaine English, president of the Newark Street Park K-9 Friends, a non-profit that has signed a formal agreement with the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation to manage the dog run portion of the park.
But the aesthetic of the road, which is wide enough for a garbage truck, resulted in the emergency legislation, which was co-sponsored by Mary Cheh, D-Ward 3, and passed unanimously by the council on July 13.
“Mendelson and Cheh's only stated reason for wanting the road taken out is that they think it is ‘ugly.’ They refuse to accept that it is needed for trash pickup and ADA access,” said 3C-06 Commissioner Trudy Reeves in a July 21 e-mail to the McLean Gardens community listserv titled “Phil Mendelson trying to remove ADA ramp?”
In addition to stopping work currently underway, the legislation demands that the D.C. Office of Public Education Facility Modernization “develop a plan, with costs, for removal of the recently constructed roadway, and for the construction of a pervious path in its place....”
McLean Gardens residents who attended the meeting -- and the 3C commissioners -- do not think re-evaluating the path design, and ripping up the partially complete road, is necessary.
“I personally do not think the road is ‘ugly.’ It has a curve to it and can be nicely landscaped,” Reeves said.
The residents and several of the 3C commissioners are upset that Mendelson and Cheh introduced the legislation without consulting the ANC or community groups.
Reeves, who has been active in the redesign for several years, found out about the legislation from the mayor’s office the same day it was presented to the council.
3C-08 Commissioner Dr. Catherine May asked Mendelson if the legislation is intended to stop construction on the park. Mendelson told May he was not “comfortable” saying he would support the redesign of the park in September, even with a permeable path.
“The D.C. Council's willingness even to entertain the Mendelson/Cheh so-called ‘emergency’ bill regarding the roadway into the Newark St. Dog Park gives offense to all residents of ANC 3[C] who were not consulted about the matter through the regular legislative process before Mendelson and Cheh presented the bill to the Council,” said Newark Street resident Valerie French in a July 22 e-mail to the council.
“The bill is almost a poster-child example of intrusive, micro-management for no substantial purpose,” French said.
The redesigned park was scheduled to open mid-August. But without completed paths, English doubts that will happen, even with verbal assurances since Monday’s meeting from DPR and OPEFM that the opening date has not changed.
“[C]onstruction cannot be completed on the toddler playground fence and landscaping until the issue of the ramp is resolved...interim surfaces will have to be found for the dog park and tennis court entrances which were to be paved with the same materials as the ramp,” English said in a July 24 letter to Mayor Adrian Fenty requesting he veto the legislation.
Mendelson does not think that the legislation will delay the park’s official opening. City projects often open when they are not entirely completed, he said.
The ANC passed a motion at Monday’s meeting for Chair Anne-Marie Bairstow, 3C-03, to write a letter to the council asking that the park be completed on schedule and with the design previously approved by the ANC.
“If [Mendelson and Cheh] were concerned, there were ample opportunities” to challenge the park plans, English said.
The conceptual design for the park was first created in March 2008 and has been discussed publicly at ANC meetings several times, English said. The design, which has undergone several approvals by the ANC, was last voted on in May, English said.
Mendelson was asked at the ANC meeting why he objected to the access road now, a month before the scheduled opening.
“Because it was built and everyone saw what it was,” Mendelson said.
Cheh responded to constituents’ concerns in an e-mail to the McLean Gardens community listserv on Thursday, July 22.
In the e-mail, Cheh clearly states her support for an “upgrade” of the park. But this support does not extend to having an “asphalt, impervious roadway” going through the park.
Legislation to prevent the asphalt roadway from becoming permanent was necessary to allow for alternative access path plans to be developed, Cheh said.
ANC 3C community members will “definitely be there” when the council discusses the park redesign in September, English said.
Three-term incumbent Mendelson is being challenged in the Sept. 14, 2010, Democratic primary by Clark Ray who, as former Director of DPR, helped establish the redesign plan for the Newark Street Park. Cheh is running unopposed in the primary.
See DPR’s site plans for the Newark Street Park:
Visit the Newark Street Park K-9 Friends: